Why You Should Never Offer Unlimited/Lifetime Support
Selling a WordPress product along with lifetime support and upgrades is tricky, because:
- You’ll realize that sort of pricing model isn’t sustainable, you slowly crumble under the pressure, and your business fails.
- You’ll realize that sort of pricing model isn’t sustainable, you backtrack on your policy and get a lot of bad press and angry customers who no longer have that “lifetime” support they were previously promised.
- You’ll realize that sort of pricing model isn’t sustainable, you honor the “lifetime” or “unlimited” support agreement past customers originally bought, eat the costs associated with that, and apply the new time-limited support/upgrade policy to any new purchase.
Notice anything in common with the three above options? Oh yeah, that sort of pricing model isn’t sustainable.
Option 2 is exactly what WooThemes just did earlier today, and the decision has been met with mixed feedback (to put it nicely). In hindsight, they could’ve handled things a bit differently:
- They could’ve kept their existing customer base happy by going with option 3, and at least stopped the bleeding of their previously flawed pricing model.
- They could’ve minimized a lot of the bad press and angry customers if they decided to make their “option 2″ announcement a long time ago.
- They could’ve eliminated all of the bad press and angry customers if they didn’t offer any “guarantee” of unlimited/lifetime support to begin with, along with an appropriate pricing model.
Obviously, things always look a lot different in retrospect.
Is the price increase a good thing?
I admit, when I first heard this news, I thought it was a good thing. I tweeted this:
— Theme Lab (@themelab) August 1, 2013
WooThemes is simply increasing their prices to make their business more sustainable for the long-term. I mean, what good is “lifetime” support if the company who is supposed to be providing that support goes out of business?
Premium WordPress themes have been priced too cheaply for too long. When you consider the time put into development of such a product, the time put into maintaining such a product, and the time put into supporting such a product, it’s understandable to charge a premium for it.
The problem is, and what I now realize, is they’re basically making their customers pay for the mistake they made, which was only compounded by the fact they waited so long to announce it, presumably because they wanted to hop on the BS marketing term train of unlimited” to grow their user base in the short term.
They should’ve known what they were getting into, and could have put a stop to it a long time ago.
“Unlimited” is a BS marketing term
Albert Einstein once said, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
Notice Einstein didn’t mention any of the following:
- Unlimited hard drives with endless disk space
- Unlimited network capacity that unlimited megabytes of files can be downloaded from
- Unlimited time to answer support requests from an unlimited amount of customers
- Unlimited time to continuously develop and maintain an unlimited amount of products
Because it’s simply NOT POSSIBLE.
And yeah, I know the first two are references to the web hosting industry and their love affair with imaginary “unlimited” space/bandwidth. Try putting up a super high-bandwidth site on a cheapo “unlimited” web host and see how fast your account gets suspended.
The point is, any time you see “unlimited,” especially next to a really low price tag, question it.
Taking it one step further: per-incident support
There is an infinite amount of numbers between any two numbers. For example, between 1 and 2, there is 1.1, 1.11, 1.111, and so on.
How does this apply to unlimited support, even within a limited time frame? Well, it’s inevitable certain customers are going to submit a lot of support requests regardless.
The question may come up in the future: is the “unlimited support requests within a certain time frame” model even sustainable?
Why not limit support to a certain amount of “incidents” rather than annually or per site? I’ve seen this done on web hosts and other software products, but never seen it in the WordPress product world.
This way, the cost associated with a customer with 100+ incidents a month wouldn’t affect the price paid of another customer who required less support with less than 25 incidents in a year. Presuming incidents exceeding the predetermined limit cost extra, everything remains sustainable.
Just something to think about, but I think it would make a lot more sense than limiting it “per site” or “within a year.”
What About Unlimited Usage?
Now, keep in mind the code behind WooThemes’ products is GPL licensed. Customers can still use that code on an unlimited amount of sites forever, it just won’t be supported by WooThemes after the support period ends, unless that support agreement is renewed for an additional fee.
How long it takes that code to get old and deprecated after the one year of upgrades (or whatever limited amount of time) is up is another story.
Gravity Forms knew how to pull it off. They also did it over three years ago, before it became too big of a deal to offer lifetime support to all customers prior to the announcement.
WooThemes continued chugging along the unlimited train for long, it sounds like it was too late to do what Gravity Forms did and still make fiscal sense. But, at least they made a change. Despite all the negative feedback they’ve received today, they set their business up for future sustainability.
For all the customers complaining about losing their “lifetime” support, imagine how they would feel if WooThemes completely went out of business in a couple years? It could’ve been worse for everyone, longer down the road. Better late than never, I suppose.
So, what do you think of all of this? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
- On Sustainable Business Models in Business (And WordPress) by Cory Miller of iThemes
- Major Pricing Changes At WooThemes by Jeffro of WPTavern
- WordPress Products versus Services by David Peralty
- Oh My WOO! by James Dalman
- Sustainable Business Models by Pippin of Pippin’s Plugins
- WooThemes Has Raised Their Prices by Chris Lema at Torque Mag